Holder Lights Political Firestorm With Detainee Move

Lauren Victoria Burke/WDCPIX.COM

At a press conference this morning, Attorney General Eric Holder said he hoped Washington would “leave the politics out of it” when considering his decision to transfer five suspected 9/11 conspirators from the detention center in Guantanamo Bay to New York City for trial in federal court.

His request fell on deaf ears. Before he had even stepped from behind the mics at the Justice Department, politicians on both sides had begun a partisan battle over his decision to charge and try some of the men allegedly responsible for the worst terror attack in U.S. history.House Republican leader John Boehner was the most blatant with his claim that politics was behind Holder’s claim.

“The Obama Administration’s irresponsible decision to prosecute the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in New York City puts the interests of liberal special interest groups before the safety and security of the American people,” Boehner said in a statement. “This decision is further evidence that the White House is reverting to a dangerous pre-9/11 mentality – treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue and hoping for the best.”

NRSC chair John Cornyn had a similar view.

“Reverting to a pre-9/11 approach to fighting terrorism and bringing these dangerous individuals onto U.S. soil needlessly compromises the safety of all Americans,” he said in a statement. “Putting political ideology ahead of the safety of the American people just to fulfill an ill-conceived campaign promise is irresponsible.”

At the press conference this morning, Holder said the decision to bring the detainees to U.S. soil was solely based on legal interpretations and the administration’s goal of bringing the 9/11 terrorists to justice. Holder said despite his hopes, he expected his decision will become a political fight.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have criticized the Obama plan to close Guantanamo Bay by moving prisoners there to federal “supermax” prisons in the U.S. already holding domestic and international terrorists prosecutors have convicted in the past. Critics say any plan that puts a suspected terrorist on U.S. soil endangers Americans. A bipartisan and overwhelming majority in the Senate already expressed their disdain for such a plan in a vote earlier this year.

Holder said the five federal prosecutions announced today were a “significant step forward” toward closing Gitmo.

Holder will face some of the administration’s Capitol Hill critics when he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Tuesday. Committee chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was one of the few lawmakers to release as statement praising the Holder move today.

“I have always believed that the nation’s federal courts are capable of trying high profile terrorism and national security cases,” he said. “They have proven time and time again to be up to the job.”

“I hope these cases will move forward promptly,” Leahy added. “By trying them in our federal courts, we demonstrate to the world that the most powerful nation on earth also trusts its judicial system – a system respected around the world.”